In The Know: Lawsuit seeks to reinstate additional unemployment benefits | State’s rural suicide rate increasing | More

In The KnowIn The Know is your daily briefing on Oklahoma policy-related news. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. Some stories included here are behind paywall or require subscription. OK Policy encourages the support of Oklahoma’s state and local media, which are vital to an informed citizenry. Subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

New from OK Policy

Medicaid expansion coverage starts in Oklahoma (Capitol Update): The citizens who organized, advocated, and voted for Medicaid expansion in Oklahoma saw a major milestone achieved on July 1 when the new law that was placed into the constitution by voters last year went into effect. Now anyone aged 19-64, previously ineligible for health care coverage under Medicaid, can sign up and receive benefits if they do not exceed the income and asset limits. The Oklahoma Health Care Authority has estimated more than 200,000 people previously ineligible will now qualify. To its credit, the legislature approved a budget of $164 million in funding for the expansion. Ninety percent of the cost is paid for by the federal government. [Capitol Update / Steve Lewis]

Oklahoma News

Lawsuit seeks to reinstate additional pandemic federal unemployment benefits for Oklahomans: A lawsuit filed in Tulsa County claims Gov. Kevin Stitt’s move to end expanded federal unemployment programs early violates state law that requires the state’s unemployment system to secure “all advantages” for unemployed workers from the federal government. [The Frontier]

Delta variant main concern of health officials in Oklahoma, but its full spread is unclear: The Delta variant is the primary concern of Oklahoma health officials amid a recent uptick in coronavirus cases in the state, but data about who is being infected with the variant and where those infections are coming from is limited. Only 92 confirmed cases of the Delta variant have been sequenced in Oklahoma, health officials said during a briefing Friday. But that number likely only represents a fraction of the true scope of the Delta variant in the state. [The Frontier]

  • As COVID-19 cases rise, officials repeat pleas for unvaccinated Oklahomans to get a shot [The Oklahoman]
  • Over 134,000 late for second COVID-19 shot in Oklahoma, leaving them vulnerable to delta variant [The Oklahoman]
  • Oklahoma health officials urge vaccinations amid COVID spike [AP News via Public Radio Tulsa

Health News

State sees rise in suicides during pandemic with rural areas seeing greater increase: Experts say the need for more mental health services is greater in rural areas compared to urban areas. It’s one reason why the suicide rate in rural areas is typically higher than in urban areas. That need has been especially acute during the COVID-19 pandemic. The World analysis also found that rural suicides — those outside the Tulsa and Oklahoma City metropolitan areas — increased by 27% from 2019 to 2020, while counties within the two major metro areas saw a 2% decline during the same period. [Tulsa World]

State Government News

Stitt on CPAC panel on leadership, justice and jobs in age of ‘wokeism’: Gov. Kevin Stitt traveled to Dallas over the weekend to participate in a panel at the Conservative Political Action Conference, known as CPAC. The 2021 theme was “America Uncanceled,” and Stitt took part in a panel discussion with Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee on leadership, justice and jobs in the age of “wokeism.” [Public Radio Tulsa]

Oklahoma House seeking public input on plans for congressional redistricting: The House of Representatives is seeking the public’s input on the plans for congressional redistricting, so they’re holding numerous town hall meetings across the state. [KTUL]

Federal Government News

Despite earlier criticism, some Oklahoma lawmakers vote by proxy: When the U.S. House of Representatives approved voting by proxy early in the pandemic last year, Rep. Markwayne Mullin accused Democrats of a “power grab,” while Rep. Kevin Hern scorned it as a “scam” and Rep. Tom Cole joined a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality. Since then, Mullin has cast more than 70 votes this year by proxy. Cole and Hern each cast votes by proxy on one day this year. Rep. Frank Lucas has not voted by proxy since the practice was approved last year, but he has cast votes for Mullin, Cole and Hern. Rep. Stephanie Bice has not voted by proxy or cast votes for others. [The Oklahoman]

Tribal Nations News

Cherokee Nation highlights expansion of legal system on anniversary of McGirt ruling: Before the U.S. Supreme Court changed the nature of criminal prosecutions on tribal land last year, the Cherokee Nation was filing on average six cases per month in its tribal court system, the tribe said. Now, on the first anniversary of the McGirt v. Oklahoma ruling, the tribe has reported filing more than 1,200 cases so far this year. That influx of cases in tribal court is in addition to the uptick in major crimes prosecutions in federal courts as a result of the McGirt ruling. [Tulsa World]

Lewis Johnson ousts Greg Chilcoat as Seminole Nation of Oklahoma chief: For the second time in four years, the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma’s incumbent chief has been defeated by a challenger. On Saturday, Assistant Chief Lewis Johnson received nearly 60 percent of the vote in a three-way race, ousting Chief Greg Chilcoat, who had defeated an incumbent himself in 2017. [NonDoc]

Jess Henry, Anthony Dillard win Choctaw Nation Tribal Council races, third heads to runoff: Joey Tom and Adrian Johnico will head to a runoff election for Choctaw Nation Tribal Council District 7, while incumbent District 10 Councilman Anthony Dillard easily won re-election and District 4 voters selected Jess Henry over Jennifer Roberts in a close race. [NonDoc]

Criminal Justice News

‘A look of fear’: Fatal pursuit in area unfamiliar to trooper kills woman with fleeing driver: The Oklahoma Highway Patrol’s pursuit policy doesn’t specifically address nor offer guidance for when — or when not — to attempt a tactical vehicle intervention if other occupants are inside an eluding vehicle. Two national policing researchers and strategists say vehicular chases shouldn’t even happen unless a violent crime is involved — and eluding itself doesn’t count. Department of Public Safety Commissioner John Scully, who oversees OHP, repeatedly has turned down interview requests from the Tulsa World to discuss policies, practices and deadly chases. [Tulsa World]

Internet crimes against children cases are overwhelming Oklahoma officials: The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation’s Internet Crimes Against Children Unit last year received 3,802 tips related to online child exploitation, a record number for the agency. [The Oklahoman]

Economic Opportunity

Rep. John Waldron Op-Ed: Here’s a commonsense way to reform tenant rights and ease Tulsa’s eviction problems: Tulsa has the 11th highest eviction rate in the nation. It feeds into the city’s problem of homelessness and has a crippling impact on families. Eviction isn’t just a symptom of poverty. The way some of these real estate professionals practice their trade, it’s a generator of poverty. [Rep. John Waldron / Tulsa World]

Editorial: Oklahoma tenants at-risk to predatory behavior: A minority of landlords cause monumental problems for tenants, creating a bad reputation for many innocents. Owners acting in good faith ought to rally behind tightening standards and enforcement on poor landlords. [Editorial / Tulsa World]

‘Definitely peaceful’: Ministry brings affordable homes to south OKC with 12th Street Casas project: Seven new homes in the Shidler-Wheeler area of Oklahoma City symbolize new beginnings for several individuals and families who dreamed of homeownership. The seven homes were built through FaithWorks’ partnership with philanthropists David and Barbara Green. The affordable housing initiative will make the homes available to six families through rent-to-own agreements. [The Oklahoman]

Economy & Business News

New grocery store, more development in neglected east OKC attracts national attention: In the middle of the east side of Oklahoma City, along the main street of the local African American community, a success story is rising against all odds and is attracting national attention as a possible model for overcoming decades of discrimination and systemic racism. [The Oklahoman]

General News

Oklahoma’s foster care system gets clean report for the first time in a decade: For the first time since reform efforts began in 2012, Oklahoma’s foster care system has made “good faith efforts” to improve in every way that independent experts have asked for, according to the most recent progress report. [Tulsa World]

‘It will save lives’: How Norman became the first Oklahoma town to ban conversion therapy for minors: The Norman city council on June 29 unanimously passed an ordinance, carrying up to $750 in fines and up to 60 days in jail for any state licensed medical provider practicing so-called conversion therapy with a minor in Norman. The ordinance would not impact churches or non-licensed providers. The vote placed Norman among more than 90 other municipalities across the U.S. that have passed similar bans. The practice has been deemed harmful and discredited by the American Psychological Association, among other major medical associations. [The Oklahoman]

Attack on Lankford reflects tensions between elected officials and their parties: The move by the Oklahoma Republican Party’s leadership against U.S. Sen. James Lankford may be unique in its audacity, but not in its direction, political observers say. [Tulsa World]

  • Editorial: Republican leaders are choosing up sides for an election that’s almost a year away [Editorial / Tulsa World]

Oklahoma Local News

  • Oklahoma City Police aim to fill over 150 positions as new recruit class begins [The Oklahoman]
  • City of Tulsa redistricting commission starts its work [Public Radio Tulsa]
  • Tulsa mayor to meet with city officials to discuss options for new public safety complex [Tulsa World]

Quote of the Day

“The class of people it hurts most is the folks that work in the service industry. They don’t get to work remotely. They don’t have health insurance, they don’t have paid sick leave. In fact, they don’t even get a full 40 hours, fast food places keep them under 30. So they’re working at marginal wages at sub-hours, just barely getting by. And the governor wants to drive these people back to these jobs.”

-Chad Smith, an attorney for a Tulsa woman who filed a lawsuit seeking a court order against discontinuation of additional federal unemployment benefits intended to help people who lost their jobs amid the pandemic [The Frontier]

Number of the Day

27%

Rural suicides — those outside the Tulsa and Oklahoma City metropolitan areas — increased by 27% from 2019 to 2020, while counties within the two major metro areas saw a 2% decline during the same period. [Source: Tulsa World]

Policy Note

Rural–Urban Mental Health Disparities in the United States During COVID-19: The United States has more confirmed deaths from coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) than any other country in the world. State governors made decisions around social distancing in their jurisdictions, which caused schools and businesses to close. Those with broadband access continued a sense or normalcy in their lives. However, for the more than 20 million people who do not have broadband access, a different set of barriers has been experienced. These challenges are especially prominent in rural communities throughout various states. The present commentary addresses how health disparities for preexisting conditions place rural residents at greater risk for morbidity during COVID-19. Reasons for physical and mental health disparities, such as limited access to hospitals or specialty providers (e.g., psychiatrists), are described. Whereas telehealth is promoted as a way to meet health access needs, especially during a pandemic, this luxury is not readily available for all U.S. residents. Recent actions brought about by the government (e.g., the CARES Act) have tried to address the rural–urban gap in telehealth, but more is needed. [Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy]

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

David Hamby has more than 25 years of experience as an award-winning communicator, including overseeing communication programs for Oklahoma higher education institutions and other organizations. Before joining OK Policy, he was director of public relations for Rogers State University where he managed the school’s external communication programs and served as a member of the president’s leadership team. He served in a similar communications role for five years at the University of Tulsa. He also has worked in communications roles at Oklahoma State University and the Fort Smith Chamber of Commerce in Arkansas. He joined OK Policy in October 2019.

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